Review: Urinetown (St James Theatre)
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Let us put the deliberately off-putting title aside for a moment. When this satire by composer Mark Hollmann and writer Greg Kotis about corporate greed and environmental collapse opened on Broadway in 2001, it had a fan base that adored its subversion of the optimistic musical.
Its narrator is Officer Lockstock — played with sadistic menace by Jonathan Slinger — who lectures his gratuitously cute sidekick Little Sally about the principles of plot within the framework of musicals. They loved the darkness of the story set in a future metropolis where there’s a fee to pee and those who cannot afford it are sent into exile, or worse. Even the ending, which is about as upbeat as Hamlet, didn’t put them off.
But Jamie Lloyd’s new British cast version is even darker than the Broadway original.
So dark that, for some, the balance may tilt a tad too far from musical comedy and too near plain nasty. Slinger’s Lockstock is a dislikeable thug and no punches are pulled in depicting police brutality.
There’s a love story but even that exists largely to poke fun at sentimentality. However, Hollmann’s score is rooted in great musicals of the past, masterfully parodying everything from Cole Porter to Kurt Weill. Kotis’s script actually is the lesson in musical book-writing that it claims to be and the ruthlessly greedy corporation which has a monopoly on conveniences feels an awful lot like our own energy firms. All of which means Urinetown deserves to make as big a splash here as it did across the pond.